Whether you believe they are medicinal or simply tasty, Italian digestivos — served in tony cafes in Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice — are a most elegant end to any meal
by JAKE CIGAINERO
styling by MARI HIDALGO
photograph by CHRIS PLAVIDAL
Indulgence is the key ingredient of la dolce vita. After a sensuous parade of pastas, meats, wines and booze-soaked desserts, the last step of the Italian feast is a coffee and more alcohol to burn it all away: the digestivo.
Perhaps Italy’s best-known after-dinner drink is the south’s tart limoncello, those last two syllables pronounced like the musical instrument. Italians insist the zesty sipper comes straight from the freezer for a chilled, sweet-sour moment after the feast.
Spicier than its citrus cousin limoncello, grappa is grape juice like you’ve never known. Like France’s cognac, the northern region’s liqueur is distilled from leftover skins of grapes pressed to make wine. The earthy brandy is served neat in its own tulip-shaped flute, or in an espresso as a caffè corretto (spiked coffee).
The most medicinal digestivo is amaro — not to be confused with the nutty amaretto — and it comes in as many varieties as the dozens of herbs, roots, flowers and bark blended to make this potent concoction. Think of the syrupy herbal liqueur as the alcohol equivalent of an uncle in Sicily whose job it is to take care of “unfinished business.” After downing a shot — or two — it’s almost as if the meal never happened.
Which means you may wish to start all over again.
JAKE CIGAINERO, a native Texan, lives in Paris, France, where he is studying for a dual master’s in international affairs and journalism at the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po).